An Army of Davids

An Army of Davids, by Glenn Reynolds, is the "Small is Beautiful" of the Internet generation. The book has been extensively reviewed; Mr Reynolds links to these on his blog

An Army of Davids is really two books, I feel : the first section describes the economic changes wrought by the decline of the big corporations, yet how the Internet is enabling "laid-off" employees to invent their own cottage industries and, in the process, become liberated and empowered. The second part is a review of the future of science and technology, again pursuing the "small will win" theme by featuring developments such as nanotechnology. I felt this part of the book was least successful.

The first part, however, is an articulate analysis of the Internet society; of bloggers as a "pack" not a "herd". (The examples, however, as in the second part of the book, are selected to make the point.) It is fascinating to read about the evolution of the Web in ways that nobody could have predicted or planned 10 years ago. Why can one find any piece of information on the Web? Not because anyone planned to put it there in some massively expensive, long-term, mass-digitisation project, but becuase lots of individual people were enthusiastic enough about some piece of information to put it online. And this collection of what he calls "horizontal knowledge" is how Mr Reynolds sees the Internet enabling individuals to evolve in a kind of globalised self-expression; we can all become musicians or film directors or published authors or journalists (or, of course, terrorists), without requiring the resources of big corporations, or suffering their bureaucracy (but lacking their health-care plans). Powerful concepts, far more of them than I can summarise here. I highly recommend reading this book — certainly the first half.

How and why Lisa’s Dad got to be famous

Grumpy Old Bookman: How and why Lisa’s Dad got to be famous

Michael Allen’s new book (title as this posting) is about to come out. He has a lovely blog entry about this event, in which he provides a synopsis of the book, some thoughts about marketing, and an interview with himself. He’s going to serialise the book on his blog over the next five or six weeks as part of his marketing strategy.

In the intereview with himself, Mr Allen covers a theme he has written on before, about the rewards of writing and publishing. Are they financial? Or personal? He is in no doubt:

"So, to sum up, you prefer to publish your own work, and have complete control over it, even though you sell fewer copies and make very little money?"


Waterstone–Ottakars merge draws closer GalleyCat

"Now that the Competition Commission has essentially given the go-ahead for HMV to buy Ottakar’s — merging Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s in unholy matrimony – reactions from the publishing world are very mixed, to say the least."

For a round-up of the reactions to the news, and predictions of its effect on book selling and buying in the UK, see the Galley Cat link above.

The final report is due out at the end of May, and "interested parties" may send comments on the draft until 19 April.

Reading Middlemarch

Reading Middlemarch: March 2006

I’ve been so busy this week I haven’t had much time to browse around the blog world, sphere, cornucopia, whatever it is called. So I’ve been bookmarking items on Bloglines to return to "at my leisure" (ha ha). Gmail is down just now so I have just been to have a look at this charming blog, to which I was alerted by a piece on Chekhov’s Mistress. (That is, CM the blog, not CM herself.)

Reading Middlemarch is exactly that, a collection of people who are all reading Middlemarch, a book which I think is wonderful. But long — would I ever have time to read it again and blog about it at the same time, on top of everything else? But it is a book I enjoyed so much, for the character and attitudes of Dorothea and for the wonderful portrait of a crank (Chasaubon) — people like him exist today! I have spent years being written to by people like him, convinced they have a better theory of evolution or have solved Fermat’s Last Theorem*, and it was such a shock of recognition and humour to read about him in this book.

Back to "Reading Middlemarch": Isabella wrote the opening post on 4 March, asking "Is Middlemarch a women’s book?" She points out that it scores high as "women’s fiction" but less well on general "male-dominated ‘best novels’ lists" (oh? news to me.) . There is some preamble about rule-setting and editions, and then they are off – with side-tracks on the way, often on feminist issues. What a great blog, I shall enjoy reading it.

*When someone really did solve Fermat’s Last Theorem, it must have been a great disappointment to these people, and a great relief to the postman. (These guys don’t believe in email but in registered, signed-for-on-receipt packages.)

Grammatical episodes Articles: Excerpt: Grammar Snobs are Great Big Meanies

Despite the somewhat off-putting title, there is some useful advice in this excerpt from a new book, which explains when to use "that" and "which", a distinction that is meat and drink to subeditors (copyeditors to US readers) and like-minded people. I haven’t looked it up in Hart’s Rules but if I did I imagine it would be one of those typical Hart’s entries that says, in effect, everyone disagrees and so latitude is allowed. (Such entries enrage the type of person who is insistent that one should never split an infinitive, for example.)

Here is June Casagrande, author of the strangely titled book, on that/which:

"Which" sets off what are called "nonessential" or "nonrestrictive" clauses. (It’s the same principle as the one we learned about in chapter 10 regarding how to use commas.) In simpler English, "nonessential" or "nonrestrictive" clauses are simply clauses that can be lifted right out of a sentence without changing its primary point. The college, which you are attending, admits anyone who can spell her own name. The main point of the sentence is that the college admits just about anyone. The fact that you are currently attending it is an extra bit of information, an aside. Everything in between the commas can be surgically removed from the sentence without changing the simple point that the college admits flunkies.

More of the same at the link, which I found via Booksquare.

Incidentally, note that I did not hyphenate "strangely titled book". Another grammatical point is that you don’t need to hyphenate a noun qualified by an adverb and an adjective, becuase there is no ambiguity. You do need to hyphenate a noun qualified by two adjectives only if there is an ambiguity, for example the red-nosed reindeer.

Here is a web article by Richard Mason entitled "Isn’t it painful to see "they" used in the singular?" I always thought that the answer is "yes", and frequently tie myself up in editing knots on this point. But according to Richard, the answer is "no". He says: "You should not feel any pain from the use of "they" as a singular pronoun, for instance to refer to a person of unknown or unspecified sex, since it is perfectly correct English." I am going to seek advice on this one, it seems a bit radical at first glance — but there does seem to be plenty of blue-chip support (note hyphen) for the usage, not least from Jane Austen.

Dr Ian Hocking said…

Thanks for your comment, Maxine. I think instinct isn’t a bad way to go. Still, it would take a long time to convince that a third-person plural can used in the singular, even if English does suffer from a lack of a gender-neutral pronoun…

8:45 PM

Maxine said…

Yes, I am surprised to read that it is apparently OK to use "they" as a singular gender-neuter pronoun. I will report back if I find out anything authoritative about this usage.

11:25 AM

Maxine said…

I meant to type gender-neutral!

11:26 AM

Honesty again

Two stories from today’s Times. One reports that various attractions (zoos, theme parks) in the UK have withdrawn free entry for holders of "Blue Peter" badges, after it has emerged over the past few days that people are selling them on e-Bay, with the sellers specifically mentioning the free entry perk. "Blue Peter" is a children’s TV programme which rewards viewers with a badge if they have done a good deed or created a piece of artwork. The article states: "On Sunday there were 20 Blue Peter badges up for sale for between 99p and £30 but yesterday there were 275 badges for sale and the top price was £130 — including an authentic letter from the programme". The amount you would save on a child’s ticket to an attraction cannot be more than about £20.

Another story in the same issue is entitled "Honest man hands in $1m bag". John Surhoff found a Louis Vuitton bag in Sausalito, California, containing a 12-carat diamond ring, Cartier jewellery and other items to the value of $1 million. He handed the bag in to the local police station. It belonged to a Canadian who was in town for a wedding, and has now been returned to the owner. "Every person I know or associate with would have done the same", Mr Surhoff is quoted as saying.

Funny old world.

Colour of Law

I read The Colour of Law (yes, with a u) by Mark Giminez on Sunday. This is the book that got published by Doubleday becuase John Grisham was, that year, writing a non-fiction book.

The Colour of Law was marketed as "as good as Grisham or your money back". I was waiting for it to come out in paperback, but a shop in Kingston was selling the hardback for £5.99 (big yellow sticker). As another, silver sticker on the cover said "As good as Grisham or your money back — £9.99", I thought I could not lose — in fact, I could only win, surely?

Well, it isn’t as good as Grisham. But I’m not going to ask for my money back either, as it isn’t that bad. It is just totally predictable as soon as the set-up is described: rich, handsome young lawyer with adorable cute daughter, gorgeous wife, red Ferrari, mansion; earns tons of money working for evil corporations; is manipulated into defending a heroin-addicted prostitute accused of murdering a good-for-nothing son of a powerful senator/presidential hopeful. I won’t say any more, but if you had to guess the rest of the plot from that sentence, you would be quite correct. (You probably would not also need the prologue "To Kill a Mockingbird" heavy hint.)

The book is readable enough, and short, but so utterly predictable in absolutely every way, it is kind of hard to see the point. OK for a flight if you’ve already read The Da Vinci Code, I suppose 😉

More on that Newsweek article


John Battelle has read the Newsweek piece on social search and tagging on which I posted yesterday, but has also pointed to the above link at ResourceShelf, in which Gary Price (Director of Online Information Resources at has deconstructed the article.

Gary Price notes that Newsweek’s writers have got confused between tagging and taxonomies; that the writers don’t address copyright issues faced by web video-hosting services such as YouTube; and he discusses the point of tagging when used for a mass user group as opposed to a few users.

I am not a regular Delicious user so I don’t know how tagging works there, but I am a very regular user of Connotea (a similar service but for scientists), and have wrestled with this tagging question as a user. If a group of scientists or science editors want to share discoveries, the "free" tagging system means that you have to second-guess what other people would use as a tag. Or set up as a Connotea user group and create your own taxonomy (structured organisation of tags) or your own restricted set of tags. People would then have to choose from a menu of tags when adding a new link, rather than putting in ad hoc tags. But again, you’d have to be part of that group to know which the tags are, it isn’t intuitive. And, as I’m told by Connotea’s creators, restrictive tagging or taxonomies are against the spirit of the resource.

As a user, I "solve" it by signing up to the new additions rss feed, but although this kind of works for Connotea (about 200 a day) it is impossible for Delicious (more like 200 an hour!). One is then left in the circular situation of signing up for a tagged rss feed. So you’d miss any relevant items that don’t have that particular tag. Oh well. I am sure more technical minds than mine are working on this problem, if the Newsweek article and associated comments are anything to go by.

John Battelle says he feels much smarter after reading the ResourceShelf commentary, which is a pretty good recommendation.

Maxine said…

Somewhat belatedly, I am posting a link sent to me by Dave Lull:

The article at the link provides an overview of social bookmarking and controlled tagging.

5:26 PM

15 City Skylines

15 Best Skylines in the World

At the link is a beautiful series of photos of city skylines by Luigi Di Serio at his blog (There are actually 18.) I was referred to these pictures by Steve Rubel at micropersuasion.

Bonnie Calhoun said…

I got them from the link you gave Frank. They are absolutely breathtaking….I was mesmerized! Except I’m a New Yorker….I miss the World Trade Centers…the sky line will never be the same!

6:24 AM

Maxine said…

I agree completely, Bonnie.
I am hoping the guy will do "15 beautiful natural skylines" next but I doubt he will as his website says he is an urban planner.

7:55 PM

Cathy said…

Very nice, but where’s London?

10:12 AM

Maxine said…

Thank you, Cathy, and good point!

8:56 PM

Scott Adams’ opinions

In common with hundreds and no doubt thousands of other people (if the comments are anything to go by), I enjoy reading Scott Adams’s Dilbert blog. Today he has a great posting about his opinions.

Yesterday, he said he would give his true opinion on as many topics as his commenters asked (and he could find time to answer). He’s responded today, at the link above. I just love it. Here are a few examples, but read the whole thing.

Q. What do you see as the greatest problem facing the world today?
A. Religious nuts (assuming global warming gets fixed).

Q. What is your opinion on the nature, constancy, and relevancy of time?
A. Ask me again yesterday.

Q. What’s your opinion on abortion?
A. It’s bad for the fetus. It’s convenient for the adult who wants one. Arguing about when “life begins” is an attempt to offload a tough question on the dictionary or the courts or a superstition. I support the majority opinion in favor of keeping abortion legal. I value the quality of life for adults higher than the unrealized life of a fetus. And I trust the majority (the mob) to figure out the most realistic place to draw that line.

Q. Who, out of any person, would do the best job of dictator with total control of the world, and please give a real response.
A. Bill Gates. He’s rational, experienced, and has a good track record of helping the disadvantaged through his charitable trusts.

Q. Do you think people can be ‘born gay’, or is it developmental?
A. I think people are born with specific sexual preferences, including being on the fence about it. I think that the people who are naturally bisexual might pick one side and go with it depending on their life experiences. It’s those fence sitters who make it seem like a lifestyle decision for everyone. But the people who have never been attracted to the opposite sex are clearly born that way.

Sometimes I think Scott Adams just likes to wind up his audience — posts a provocative argument and watches all the commenters jump around or wrap themselves in knots. But the "opinions" pieces are great: he’s connecting with his audience; answering some hard questions (eg about use of torture) very well; and being funny at the same time.

Just one more example, which I think is a pretty good life position:

Q. What’s your opinion of yourself?
A. I’m good at some things and bad at others. I’m lucky that there’s a market for the things I’m good at.